Last updated: July 17. 2013 6:03PM - 517 Views
Ron Gregory

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The girls state high school basketball tournament will likely always take a back seat to the boys big dance at the Charleston Civic Center. Still, the annual event appears to draw bigger crowds and more interest each year.

This year’s event drew even more local interest with Logan’s Cinderella run for a Class AAA title. The fact that the coach’s health had leveled him at one time and made him questionable for next season added to the intrigue.

However the girls state tourney goes each year, it is another great opportunity for sports enthusiasts.

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In the continuing “proof” that Catholic schools do SOMETHING improper in order to dominate many Class A sports, Huntington St. Joseph Central Catholic High easily won yet another state title. As I have mentioned before, those who insist that parochial schools have some sinister advantage over public schools in athletic endeavors are also, coindentally, bigots who think all Catholics are headed to hell.

Anyway, hats off to the Lady Irish for a tremendous five-year run dominating girls high school ball.

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With the Scott Skyhawk boys heading to Charleston tomorrow for their shot at the Class AA state title, there is naturally a lot of enthusiasm in Boone County. Coach Nick Cabell’s crew, as I have said many times, has a real shot at winning at the Charleston Civic Center. It depends on which Scott team shows up on any given night. Sometimes, the Hawks could play with the Los Angeles Lakers; occasionally they would struggle against the Madison biddy ball team.

Fairmont Senior is Scott’s first round opponent tomorrow (Thursday, March 14) at 1 p.m. It will be an intense, stressful time for a young squad that had its dreams of the state tourney from the day they started basketball. Still, Scott is building a basketball tradition that should help calm nerves and give them a real shot in Charleston.

If they win Thursday, the Hawks would meet the winner of the Westside-Bridgeport game in the semi-final at 11:15 a.m., Friday. Scott could work their way to a tourney finale against top-ranked Bluefield on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Fairmont Senior, ranked second among the eight AA schools, faces Scott because of the Hawks’ number seven ranking.

Region IV’s other representative, Tolsia, comes into the tourney in fifth place and meets number four Robert C. Byrd of Clarksburg. With the Region IV region being arguably the toughest in the state, it makes little sense that the region’s two representatives would be in the lower tier when ranked for the big dance.

Obviously, if Poca had made the field they would have been in the top four but that’s the way the seeding method works at tournament time.

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Watch this newspaper for regular updates regarding the Skyhawk trip to Charleston.

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State tournaments are great times to greet old friends and make new ones. There are always new stories and thoughts of old ones as sportswriters, coaches, fans and teams gather in Charleston.

The boys affair will be the one-hundredth, bringing a wide array of activities to commemorate the occasion.

Remembrances will include the years of the tournament’s infancy when it was played in Buckhannon and sponsored by West Virginia Wesleyan College. It was quite a time when the event was open to all the schools in the state. Residents of the Upshur County town often agreed to open spare rooms in their private homes to house visiting teams, coaches and fans since there were not enough hotel rooms Morgantown and Huntington before landing in Charleston on a, more or less, permanent basis.

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A great deal of whispered conversation at the girls tournament involved media-types who claim to have the “inside scoop” on Morgantown businessman John Raese’s claims about television and radio contracts West Virginia University is about to award to a competitor of the Raese broadcasting dominion.

While I know little about the facts inthe current case, I have no doubt Raese’s West Virginia and MetroNews stations have benefitted from WVU for years with little or no competition.

For example, the MetroNews stations broadcast all WVU football and basketball games and have for years. When was that contract actually scrutinized by anyone in authority? How many sweetheart deals have been cooked up on that stove over the years?

The Morgantown businessman’s crying reminds me of the baby whose rattle is taken by the suddenly-arriving second child. My guess is that investigators and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will find little, if anything, amiss in awarding a new media contract. But the controversy makes good conversation for those who carry cameras for a living. Stories is their stock in trade, of course, and many are interesting.

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Another story came from the television cameraman who said he was shooting a game this season when the referee whispered to him that he would prefer not to make the final editing cut.

“At first I thought he was kidding,” the photo man said. “Then he told me, ‘I called into work sick today and I’d rather not be on TV.’”

Some hefty editing left the official out, according to the camera operator.

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When the story of the state boys basketball tournament is told, one Cinderella squad can never be left out. The Charleston Gazette-Mail had a two-page feature on the tourney last weekend and among the items featured was a picture of the 1945 Normantown High School state champion team.

Discussion of that team seldom ends for those old enough to remember it. Tiny Normantown High, my alma mater, had a rich basketball tradition but nothing topped that 1945 title run.

That was a war year, when all teams in the state were grouped into one class. Thus, the Vikings topped teams like powerful Washington Irving of Clarksburg, Morgantown High and Logan. Newspapers across the country did feature stories on the team coached by Eugene “Boot Jack” Williams.

As a NHS alumni, I wrote a book about the school, featuring that championship run. Because of the war, Williams was actually just a “fill-in” coach, with the team’s long-time mentor off to the military that year. Williams completely acknowledged to media that he knew little about the game but he held the squad together for that title trip.

I have often said that the NHS championship would make a better movie than “Hoosiers.” Among the stories I was told was about how short the supply of tennis shows was at the time. Visiting game officials and others donated shoes for the team to wear. Often, when a player was removed from a game, he tossed his shoes to his replacement to wear. It is a touching story.

Unlike “Hoosiers,” it wasn’t some assistant coach who had a drinking problem. Williams readily told me, in his later years, that he liked the bottle a bit too much at the time. He said it was liquor that likely kept him calm enough to coach the Vikings to victory. “I felt better with a drink or two in me,” he said at the time.

What a story that ‘45 title run would make. Perhaps once I help my friend, Marcia, complete her movie, I’ll know how to get the NHS story told on the big screen.

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There will be some huge crowds for the state tourney but do not let that discourage anyone from attending the games. I’m sure Cabell and his boys will be inspired; the bigger the Scott crowd, the better.

See you at the Civic Center.

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